Monday, 16 July 2012

Wat Pho Herbal Sauna

Wat Pho in the village of Bantai is easily reached from Haad Rin or Thongsala: just take the turning to Thong Nai Pan next to the 7-11 on the main road and head up the road for a couple of kilometers. On the left you will see the tall tower, pointed roof and enclosure that denote a Buddhist temple complex in Thailand.

The herbal sauna at Wat Pho is famous in Koh Phangan, as it is the only one of its kind on the island. It used to be free, and run using donations. It was shut for several years and then re-opened in 2007. Since starting up again, guests are now charged 50 Thai Baht to use the herbal sauna. The monks are given help with the upkeep of the place thanks to a joint venture program.

During busy times of the year it is a good idea to go down to the temple and book the use of the herbal sauna. At other times of the year you can normally turn up and get into the sauna straight away. The sauna is open from 2pm to 7pm every day of the week.

It is believed that Thai massage was invented by the Buddha’s personal physician. This is more than likely to be apocryphal but it nevertheless clearly highlights the connection in Thailand between medicine and religion. This is certainly the case with herbal saunas. The herbs are chosen to be build strength, detox the body and cleanse the skin. The herbal combination includes lemongrass, turmeric and jasmine

When you arrive at Wat Pho for a sauna you are given a sarong. You strip off, put your clothes and valuables in a locker and then preserve your modesty using the sarong.

You enter a narrow room with ceramic benches on either side. The steam comes from piping venting from the walls. The steam has a strong fragrance. It is a low small room with little space and you soon get very hot and are dripping with sweat. Those who say the sauna is not hot enough are well off the mark: it is more than hot enough to purge yourself of toxins.

The average person can’t take more than an hour in the sauna before they call it a day. When you decide to stop the sauna experience a monk will offer you a cold drink or a hot herbal tea.

A common method is to go into the sauna for 10 minutes and then go outside, ladle some cold water over yourself and cool down for 5 minutes. This process can be repeated for a few times to acclimatize the body before trying to bear the heat for 15 or 20 minutes. Any more than that and you might evaporate into steam. It is not a good idea to play chicken with another sauna guest as the steam places stress on the heart and respiratory system.

Wat Pho herbal sauna is a great experience and a bargain for only 50 Thai Baht. Even if you don’t believe in beauty and spa treatments this experience is one worth having.